Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board member Scott Batterson offered the agency’s multimillion-dollar engineering contract to another company — if the firm were willing to hire some of his associates, according to documents released Tuesday by State Attorney Jeff Ashton.
Nearly 550 pages of records and interviews outline the basis of the April indictment that charged Batterson with three felonies, including bribery and soliciting compensation for official behavior.
Batterson, 38, originally was being investigated for possibly discussing the ouster of authority Director Max Crumit in private with fellow board members Marco Peña and Noranne Downs. Authority business can only be talked about in public meetings.
But the records indicate investigators quickly homed in on bribery charges against Batterson. He did not return calls from the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday.
Investigators interviewed an authority consultant who told them he met with Batterson and two state lawmakers for a drink in July 2013 at CaddyShanks, a sports bar in Baldwin Park.
Mark Callahan of the firm CH2MHill said Batterson told him it was “highly likely” he would soon become the chairman of the expressway authority and that “things could change” when it came to awarding contracts.
“He was very confident that it was going to happen,” Callahan said of Batterson, a civil engineer with the IBI Group.
The general-engineering contract is held by the Atkins company and runs through next spring, though it can be canceled by the board with seven days’ notice. Atkins and its predecessor, PBS&J, have earned close to $100 million since 1986.
“Well, as I can remember,” Callahan said in a sworn statement, “one of the things he [Batterson] asked was: ‘Would CH2MHill have interest in being the general consultant for the agency?’ Which I indicated: Yes. We’d be — you know, that’d be something we’re interested in but, you know, we recognize that you already have Atkins doing that.”
If CH2MHill got the lucrative general-engineering job, Callahan quoted Batterson as saying, “you know, as you’re developing our team, there’s some folks, you know, I’d like you to consider to put on that team.”
Also at the meeting, according to Callahan, were state Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, now a lobbyist. Dorworth has two clients that do business with the authority.
Callahan also told investigators that in December, in a meeting at a downtown Orlando bar, Batterson told him that Peña was upset because CH2MHill had hired Crumit, the former authority director who resigned a month after Batterson, Peña and Downs had voted 3-2 to search for his replacement.
“You know, I kinda think Marco might be upset … about you guys hiring Max because of … all this stuff that’s happened. … He may not be real happy with you,” Callahan recalled Batterson said.
Callahan said he took that as a threat that his company could lose an existing contract it had to provide engineering services to the authority on the $1.6 billion Wekiva Parkway now under construction.
Peña, a business strategist at Florida Hospital, quit the authority post last week, citing an illness in the family.
Batterson was appointed to the board of the expressway authority by Gov. Rick Scott in August 2011. Scott suspended Batterson after the indictment. Batterson surrendered at the Seminole County Jail and was released on $3,000 bail.
After Crumit quit, authority Chairman Walter Ketcham asked for an investigation to see whether Batterson, Peña and Downs had talked among themselves about Crumit’s job and who would replace him.
Ketcham said Tuesday night that he was “disgusted” by what was in the records.
“He [Batterson] figured this was his time. … It was arrogance,” Ketcham said.
Ashton has said more indictments are likely, though the grand jury may not meet again until next month.
The authority has long struggled with its image in the community. In 2009, a report by another grand jury said board members then operated in a “culture of corruption” related to raising political donations.
No indictments were issued, but that report led to the resignation of then-board Chairman Allan Keen and a series of policy and personnel changes designed to make the operation more transparent.
The authority brings in nearly $300 million annually from tolls paid to ride on the agency’s 109-mile system.
Two years ago, Crumit became the director and was widely credited with helping clean up the agency. Crumit opened the authority to the public, including publishing online every check written by the agency. But he quickly fell into disfavor after Peña was appointed to the board by Scott in July.